Life on the farm is one of seasons, and at Ambler Farm it’s a new season with a new executive director. The Friends of Ambler Farm, the board that oversees the organization, has chosen 20-year Wilton resident Ashley Kineon to be the farm’s next director, effective March 22.
But Kineon is no newcomer and will need little time to learn the ropes and familiarize herself with the place. Kineon actually has been a member of the Friends of Ambler Farm board for 10 years.
“[Former FOAF member] Beth Culnane was doing special events and said, ‘Come do an event with me.’ The next year she was like, ‘So, I’m looking for someone to lead this.’ Before I knew it, I was the next special events person,” she laughs.
Getting involved back then was natural for Kineon. She’d left her corporate career at Tiffany after her two sons were born and had immersed herself in volunteering for numerous organizations in town, including Ambler Farm. But what really drew her to Ambler was the lasting influence it had on one of her sons.
“I remember dropping Jay off the first day at the apprentice program. Three weeks later, [it was clear] he had found his place, he found his friends, he learned life lessons. It was an incredibly impactful moment to see, and you can see over and over again that this farm has had an impactful and life-changing effect on so many youths and so many people,” Kineon said.
She has continued to recognize just how special Ambler Farm is, not just for kids but as a beacon for adults as well.
“It really is that place where people go to just unplug and disconnect from the electronics and social media, especially in this past year, and find that place to connect and explore and learn and feel a part of a community,” Kineon adds.
Although Kineon returned to the workforce as her kids got older, she’d continued to actively volunteer as a FOAF board member, something that’s very hands-on at Ambler. And when the executive director position very recently opened up, someone suggested she consider applying.
“You know, as a dedicated volunteer and apprentice parent, a board member, it was clear, looking at possible career paths, if I can do what I love, first of all, I’m going to be happier. And second of all, it’s going to be something that I can give back. So, while I love what I’m doing in my corporate job, I’m deeply passionate about Ambler, and it is my dream job. My dad always told me, no matter what you do in life, do something you enjoy because it won’t feel like work. That is what it is,” she says, adding, “I’ve got all of the qualifications, from project management to strategic planning, relationship management. Everything I’ve done through my past experience, it all leads to the farm.”
Naming Kineon executive director is also a move toward stability for the farm, which has seen some transition and staff turnover. Robin Clune, the first executive director hired by the farm, oversaw a major growth period for the organization during her six-year tenure, until stepping back last year. Longtime program director (and pied piper) Kevin Meehan, who was a very visible representative of the farm, retired last summer before moving out of state. Assistant program director Jen Grass also left shortly thereafter.
The farm named another executive director in May to replace Clune. Unfortunately, said FOAF president Jay Charles, the board decided it needed to reassess. “As we all know, Ambler is a very special organization and our previous executive director wasn’t the best fit. As we look at what Ashley can contribute as an executive director and some of the strengths she has, we feel as a board that we are really well-positioned in choosing Ashley.”
So why Kineon?
“She knows the farm so well, having been a board member for 10 years–special events chair, leading adult programming for a time, and she just has a deep passion for the farm that brings that energy the farm needs. She knows the farm well, she has worked really well with the staff in her board responsibility, and is well-connected throughout the community. With her experience outside of Amber Farm, she brings extensive leadership experience, very strong communication and analytical skills, and strategy experience that, as she’s thinking about what the future of the form looks like, she’ll really be able to help shape that,” Charles adds.
In the past 10 years there has been great growth at the farm–extensive fundraising and renovation of the Raymond Abler House, hiring Farmer Jonathan Kirschner who has exponentially increased the farm’s agricultural output, and significant expansion of programming for both adults and children (including the summer camp).
So what does Kineon see for Ambler Farm’s next steps?
“I’d really like to see the Raymond Ambler house open, at least the first floor. We also are looking to get the patio done outside in the back of the house. That will be a really great venue for events and programming. We also are working now with the yellow house, there’s some maintenance and upkeep that needs to be done there. I’d like to see some additional community outreach. I’d like to see some additional programs–we have such a wonderful, strong portfolio of youth programming. A few years back when I was overseeing programs, we did some of the culinary programs with [local chef] Heather Priest, and that was really fun. We had done some lectures and we started the home garden workshop, the tomato tasting. I’d like to try to expand our program offerings, and I do feel like there is an opportunity to expand our demographic reach,” she said, adding, “I’m excited to see how we can continue to grow the programs and, and transition into something new, and yet retain what is so fundamentally Ambler.”
There are also new and existing staff members with whom Kineon is excited to work. As director of agriculture, Kirschner manages all the agricultural operations–the organic garden, the greenhouse, and harvesting produce.
Stacey Valimont is Ambler’s new director of programming, and she’s been joined by Matt Oricchio as assistant director of programming and property manager. Laura Guzewicz has made a great creative impact as the special events coordinator in the last few years, and also oversees social media. And the farm has brought on a new bookkeeper, Sheena Shen.
Top of Kineon’s agenda right now is summer camp enrollment (which is currently open on the Ambler Farm website) and getting the camp’s staffing and programming lined up, so hiring camp counselors–both teenagers and college students as well as a few teachers–will be a priority when she starts in March.
Always top of mind, of course, is fundraising. “Fairfield County Giving Day is today. We’re just like any other nonprofit in town. It’s been a challenging year [with COVID’s impact], but we are really, really excited to get the community back on the farm this summer,” Kineon says.
Plus, there’s always farm stuff happening, like the animals. “We may be adding some babies to the farm this spring,” she offers as a teaser. “Stay tuned!”